A prescribed burn conducted in the Fishlake National Forest, Utah, in 2020. USDA Forest Service photo by Roger Ottmar.
Led by scientists Roger Ottmar and Sim Larkin with the Pacific Northwest Research Station, the Fire and Smoke Model Evaluation Experiment (FASMEE) is a large-scale, multiagency effort designed to identify how fuels, fire behavior, fire energy, and meteorology interact to determine the dynamics of smoke plumes, the long-range transport of smoke, and local fire effects such as soil heating and vegetative response. The FASMEE team collects observations from large prescribed fires by combining LiDAR, radar, ground monitoring, aircraft and satellite imagery, and weather and atmospheric measurements. Other data from the experiments are being used to validate and improve models that help land managers predict fire and smoke severity, and to improve firefighter safety standards and guidelines.
The FASMEE team successfully executed the Southwest data collection campaign in the Fishlake National Forest, Utah, in 2019 and 2020. With researchers and wildland fire crews in position, weather and smoke monitoring equipment activated, and camera-carrying drones launched, the air crew ignited the fire in forest stands with heavy surface fuel loads. The primary goal of the planned fire was to increase forest biodiversity by removing conifer trees and stimulating the regrowth of aspen. The FASMEE team used the opportunity to gather valuable data about fire behavior, fuel consumption, and smoke movement in conditions that mimicked a high-severity wildfire. The June 2019 experiment in the Fishlake National Forest was featured in Vice News and can be watched here.
In 2022, the FASMEE team will begin the Southeast data collection campaign with four prescribed burns planned at Fort Stewart, Georgia. This effort will be combined with fire projects funded by the U.S. Departement of Defense Strategic Environmental Research Development Program (SERDP). Knowing more about how wildland fire operates will help land managers better predict fire behavior, smoke impacts, and the short- to long-term effects of fire. It will also promote increased public and firefighter safety and aid in the allocation of firefighting resources.
Models for projecting fire behavior and smoke impacts are increasingly relied on during decisionmaking and planning. Many models, however, lack suitable data for adequate validation and evaluation. Land managers have identified this as a critical problem, stating that validation data collected from operational prescribed burns and wildfires is a crucial need for progressing and transitioning newer models and systems into operation.
To address these requirements, the FASMEE campaign design includes a study plan to guide the suite of required measurements in forested sites representative of many prescribed burning programs in the Southeastern United States and increasingly common high-intensity fires in the Western United States.
Other outcomes from this multi-year effort include a LiDAR geodatabase for fuel measurements and modelled fire characteristics for the following wildfire aviation campaigns:
The Forest Service Is About to Set a Giant Forest Fire—On Purpose (The Atlantic, October 23, 2019)
Fire Forecasting Goes Into the Wild (NASA, September 19, 2010)
Multiagency Effort Goes Deep Inside a Crown Fire (USDA Blog, July 29, 2019)
Watch How the Forest Service Burned Down 2,000 Acres for Research (Vice News, July 23, 2019)